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Aiea Naval Hospital History
77 years have passed since the attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of the U.S. involvement in World War II. Service members and visitors to the island of Oahu have opportunities to visit numerous land marks and reflect on the military history here over the decades.
Camp H.M. Smith is currently home to U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, the largest field command in the Marine Corps. However, it wasn’t always so. In March 1941, Congress approved Aiea (now the town/location of Camp Smith) as the site for a naval hospital. The building that now houses the MarForPac headquarters was once used to treat the wounded Marines and Sailors of World War II. Construction on the Aiea Naval Hospital began in July 1939 because of the expectations of war. Before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, there was concern about what the Japanese were doing in the Pacific.
The surprise attack prompted the United States to enter World War II. The fighting and increased need for a hospital led to a hurried completion of the Aiea Naval Hospital. When the war broke out in December 1941, they sped up construction and finished it in 1942. This became the primary rear-area hospital for Navy and Marines. What is currently occupied with military work sections, desks, and offices was then a series of wards, hospital beds, and living quarters.
As for the capabilities of the hospital, they correlated directly with the war and the needs of the patients. In 1943, the number of staff and facilities grew tremendously. New wards were constructed to better support the waves of casualties, numbering in the hundreds, arriving from the Solomon, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands. The hospital expanded again in 1944, adding staff and temporary wards to hold up to 5,000 patients. Aiea Naval Hospital had improved efficiency for admitting patients by the time casualties began arriving from Saipan, Guam, and Tinian in the Mariana Islands.
On January 1, 1944, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz personally presented awards to the many combat-wounded service members at the hospital. Patients were assembled in front of the hospital where 632 men who fought during the Battle of Tarawa received awards. Of the 41,872 admissions in 1944, 39,006 patients were relocated to the mainland or returned to duty.
In March 1945, the hospital peaked at 5,676 patients during the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. But as high as the hospital’s patient number was, so was its morale. The enlisted staff and patients were entertained by well-known celebrities of the time. Stars like Joe Cronin, manager of the Boston Red Sox, Gaylord Carter, a famous radio organist, and others visited the hospital. Bowling alleys, tennis, and volleyball courts, and billiard tables were prescribed as therapy for some patients. Many of the areas around the camp were used as gardens tended to by the patients as a rehabilitation-type activity. The food from the gardens was then used to feed the patients.
In 1945, some of the hospital’s staff were ordered back to the mainland for military separation. A year later, the patient capacity at the hospital was reduced from approximately 5,000 to 529 patients. In May 1949, the hospital stopped receiving patients altogether. On June 1, 1949, the hospital was deactivated when Army and Navy medical centers were consolidated at Tripler Army Medical Center.
Today the halls no longer echo the sounds of nurses and corpsman rushing to treat hundreds of wounded Sailors and Marines. There are no more patient evacuations or hospitalized heroes of the island-hopping campaign. Today, major military events and operations with annual training exercises keep the halls of MarForPac busy. However, in one section of the building, history is still preserved and reflected by the dedicated Sailors of Naval Health Clinic Hawaii who maintain a medically ready force that delivers highly reliable, patient centered care to warfighters.